There's a reason why plywood, as ordinary and unexciting as it sounds these days, is a nearly ubiquitous building material. It's strong, light, affordable, and versatile, making it a choice material that architects, engineers, and makers reach out for over and over. Opening on July 15, the new “Plywood: Material of the Modern World” exhibition in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London reveals plywood's eclectic yet integral role in helping shape the modern world.
Co-curated by the V&A’s Christopher Wilk and Elizabeth Bisley, the exhibition showcases over 120 plywood objects spanning from the 1850s to the present, including new acquisitions that are being publicly displayed for the first time. The exhibition explores early experiments of plywood to groundbreaking designs such as the WWII-era de Havilland Mosquito airplane.
And don't forget to check out furniture pieces by modernist icons like Ray and Charles Eames, Alvar Aalto, Marcel Breuer, Grete Jalk, and Robin Day.
The exhibition also focuses on three milestones in the evolution of plywood manufacturing: the invention of the rotary veneer cutter in the early 19th century; the advent of molding techniques that inspired 1930s modernism; and plywood’s more recent dominance as a material for CNC-cutting and digital fabrication.
In the museum's John Madejski Garden, Canadian practice Patkau Architects designed a cluster of charming ice skating shelters (pictured above) made from bending flexible plywood sheets attached to a timber frame. Originally designed to sit on a frozen river in Winnipeg, the shelters are open to all visitors to take a seat.
“Plywood is such a common, everyday material that most people barely notice when it is used,” says co-curator Christopher Wilk. “One could say that it has been hidden in plain sight. Since Victorian times, it has been one of the most popular and versatile materials used in manufacturing, and by designers and architects. Today it is more popular than ever.”
“Plywood: Material of the Modern World” will be open until November 12, 2017. Admission is free!
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